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I need to stay fit, play good hockey to survive: Sardar Singh

Sardar Singh is looking to dig deep when he makes his return as India captain at the Sultan Azlan Shah hockey tournament

other sports Updated: Feb 28, 2018 22:18 IST
Sardar Singh is making his return as India captain at the Sultan Azlan Shah hockey tournament.
Sardar Singh is making his return as India captain at the Sultan Azlan Shah hockey tournament.(Getty Images)

It is a new lease of life, and probably the last in hockey, for midfielder Sardar Singh, who will lead India in the Sultan Azlan Shah tournament in Malaysia starting on Saturday. An ageing Sardar is determined not to waste the opportunity as only a great performance in the event would keep his chances alive for a berth in the side for the big events – Commonwealth Games, Asian Games and World Cup.

“It’s a great feeling to captain the Indian team. I will try to give my best as only a good showing on the turf can make a difference,” Sardar said on Tuesday before the team left for Malaysia.

“I have got everything in life because of hockey. I compete with myself. I need to stay fit and play good hockey, which is the only mantra to survive,” said Sardar, who aims to play on till the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

He believes every player must act like a captain and take responsibility to ensure the team’s victory. “We have a good set of players in the core group and as youngsters they will look up to seniors for advice and help. It was the same with me when I came into the Indian team in 2006. I am happy to play mentor to the youngsters,” he said.

Asked if he was under any pressure on his India comeback, Sardar said it all depended on the selectors and Hockey India. “I know I need to perform well to ensure selectors pick me,” he said.

The Indian team being a mix of youth and experience, the event would be challenging for Sardar, who has captained the side for almost eight years. “Every tournament is a challenge and playing against top teams will not be easy. But for youngsters, it will be about handling pressure at the international level. We have experienced players who can do well.”

On the training methods of Dutchman Sjoerd Marijne, under whom Sardar would be playing his second event, he said each coach brought his own ideas but at this level change in coaches didn’t matter much. “The team has adapted very well to Marijne; he brings a lot of energy to every training session,” he said.

Marijne termed the Malaysia event good preparation for the big events. “It is an important tournament not only for Sardar but also for the entire team. While the new players will get the experience of playing against top teams like Australia and Argentina, the seniors will have to show consistent performances to maintain their place in the squad,” he said.

“After the Commonwealth Games (in April), we’ll have a core group of 24 players and a development squad of 24 players. It will be five months since I have been with the team. I have watched at least 50 players and almost every player has played two tournaments, where they showed their best performance. On its basis, we pick the core group of 24 men,” he said.

“In an important year with the Men’s World Cup and Asian Games, it excites me that we have a strong pool of 48 players who have had some amount of experience at the international level and have played quality teams,” Sjoerd said.

Aussie analytical coach joins team

It is official that former Australia drag-flicker Chris Ciriello would be joining as the team’s analytical coach at the India camp in Bengaluru on Wednesday as his documentation with the Sports Authority of India has reportedly been completed.

Chris, who was with India ‘unofficially’ during their recent New Zealand tour, won’t travel with the team to the Sultan Azlan Shah tournament, but will stay back in Bangalore with the rest of the players from the core group, including Rupinderpal Singh, Harmanpreet Singh, PR Sreejesh and Mandeep Singh.

Hockey India has roped in Chris to bolster the defence and improve penalty corner conversions. “The plan is to strengthen trust and belief in the team. My role is to help with execution of skills and set-pieces. Having been at the national level for a long time, playing 195 games and scoring 115 goals, I am up for the job,” Ciriello was quoted as saying.